Amber Alert: Free the Nuns


Nothing motivates Americans like a child abduction. Search parties are organized, Amber Alerts are issued, flyers printed, the media shifts into overdrive plastering the photo of the innocent missing child on social media and television broadcasts– all in a desperate race against time to rescue the kidnapped child.

Having spent a legal career in child advocacy searching for missing children, abducted by strangers and/or parents, the violent kidnapping of 12 nuns from the St. Thecla Orthodox monastery and orphanage in the Christian city of Ma’loula, Syria by radical Islamists strikes a painful chord. Yet, the apathy and inaction from the international community boggles the mind.

Since September, intense fighting and violent clashes are plaguing Ma’loula, Syria which is considered to be one of the birthplaces of Christianity. Ma’loula is home to a number of ancient Christian shrines and monasteries, which are listed as UNESCO world heritage sites. Aramaic, the language of Jesus, is still spoken there.  With the onslaught of violence, most of Ma’loula’s Christians fled the town leaving only Muslims and the St. Thecla nuns behind. Until December 2, 2013, the nuns were caring for dozens of orphaned children when Islamist rebels stormed the monastery and kidnapped 12 nuns and 3 other women staying at the monastery.

In his weekly audience, Pope Francis immediately called for the release of the nuns. The pontiff appears to be the only global leader raising his voice in protest. Where is the outrage from the international community over this senseless kidnapping? Since their abduction, the nuns have been seen only once in a video posted on Al-Jazeera.

What kind of monsters attack a convent and kidnap innocent religious women who dedicated their life to prayer and the care of war orphans?  Now that the sisters are missing who is caring for the children left behind at the monastery?

With diplomatic ties to the outlawed Syrian government severed, there exists little diplomatic will to rescue these innocent women by our government or the international community.  While some quiet low level diplomatic efforts attempt to negotiate a release with these Islamist rebels, the complexity and futility of violence in the Middle East perpetrated by stateless rebels complicates negotiations. The escalating violence against Christians is evident with this latest kidnapping of 12 nuns, who are joining two orthodox bishops and a priest kidnapped and held by hardline Islamic rebels since April.

When will Christians in the West awake to the widespread violence against Christians in the Middle East and Africa? The systematic and violent targeting of peaceful Christians, their churches and holy shrines is rapidly spreading with impunity.

There is no safe harbor or home for Christians in the Middle East. It has been estimated that 50% of Iraq’s indigenous Christians have fled due to religious persecution and violence by jihadists. Where did they flee?  Many fled to Syria only to be faced with unprecedented religious violence in Syria. It is reminiscent of German Jews who fled to France and the Netherlands to avoid the Nazis only to be targeted in their adoptive homes.

Since 2003, the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), estimates that almost a million Christians have left Iraq. Those few that remain face an ongoing persecution and martyrdom. In 2010 an al-Qaida group threatened that “the doors of destruction and rivers of blood will be opened upon them.” The death toll on Christians continues to mount.

The Middle East and Africa are bleeding Christians. Egypt has lost 100,000 Christian Copts since the toppling of President Hosni Mubarak’s government as violent Islamic forces have attacked Christians and their churches. The continent of Africa is besieged by from the murderous holocaust of Christians.  95 percent of Christians have left northern Nigeria because the Islamist group Boko Haram has been slaughtering them.  A dozen armed Muslim men stormed a church in Pakistan, seriously wounding several Christians; armed men destroyed a church in Algeria and 50 Palestinian Muslims stoned Christian tourists on Jerusalem’s Temple Mount. Muslims targeted and killed Christians in Uganda, Somalia and throughout Africa.

Have we learned from the lessons of recent history?  Apathy, indifference and the conspiracy of silence will foster continued genocide of Christians. As the passive bystander, the world community ultimately becomes complicit  in this religious annihilation.

Let there be no mistake: Indifference and inaction feed the violence and embolden the aggressor. Religious persecution often starts out slowly with the passage of an Islamic constitution or law which bans Christian beliefs, practice and worship. Law quickly morphs into violence at the Christians. Ask the Sudanese.

Sudan President Omar al-Bashir has made it clear that Christians are not welcome in Sudan.

He intends to make the Sudanese Constitution 100% Islamic. The ongoing ethnic cleansing of Christians in Sudan has seen rapes, kidnappings, and thousands of deaths with nearly 300,000 refugees fleeing their homes and violence.

It is time to put the pressure on. Let the international community know that Americans care and demand action against this systematic annihilation of Christians. Let the international community know that Christians are united to stop these persecutions. Send a strong message that violent Jihadists will incur the wrath of the civilized world. Make no mistake; The goal of these jihadists is to force Christianity into obscurity.

Protest, Publicize and Pray. The Sisters of St. Thecla only want to serve the Lord and the poor orphans of Syria. Imagine this happening in America. Imagine the religious persecution of say, the Little Sisters of the Poor.

Not hard to imagine.


Contact UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon:

Contact the Syrian UN Mission and demand the release of the nuns:

Contact Secretary of State John Kerry and demand the release of the nuns.

Contact Qatar diplomats are also involved in negotiating a release.

The views expressed here are those of the author, and do not necessarily represent the views of


About Author

Elizabeth Yore served as Special Counsel at Harpo, Inc. for the last 5 years. In that position, she acted  as Oprah Winfrey’s Child Advocate both with the Oprah Winfrey Show and in South Africa at the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls. Prior to that position, Liz was General Counsel for the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services, the Illinois statewide child welfare agency. At DCFS, Liz created the first missing child unit, which required the DCFS to immediately notify the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children when a foster child went missing. Illinois has been the leader in that initiative. She also spearheaded a program to aggressively prosecute human trafficking cases in the department.  Prior to DCFS, Liz was General Counsel at the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children in Virginia, and its first Director of the International Division handling international child abduction cases. She now blogs at, twitters@elizabethyore and consults internationally in child exploitation cases.

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